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Environment

Natural Resource Stewardship

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Number of PG&E-owned properties certified as Wildlife at Work sites by the non-profit Wildlife Habitat Council

As we work to deliver safe, reliable and affordable service to customers, PG&E maintains a deeply rooted commitment to managing land and waters in an environmentally responsible way. This includes protecting threatened and endangered species and their habitats during operations, managing watershed lands that PG&E has committed to preserving in perpetuity, maintaining forest lands to minimize the threat of wildfire, and managing vegetation and protecting birds along overhead power lines so that customers experience fewer outages.

Minimizing Impacts of Our Operations

PG&E’s work to upgrade and maintain gas and electric facilities to meet customer needs can impact sensitive wildlife and other important natural resources. This requires us to take steps to avoid or minimize impacts to these resources when we perform operation and maintenance activities.

Recent examples of our efforts to protect unique and sensitive habitats throughout California include:

  • Safe Harbor Agreements. PG&E maintains Safe Harbor Agreements with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for PG&E-owned land at two locations: Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge in Contra Costa County and Tulare Hill in Santa Clara County. Through these agreements, PG&E is working to protect species such as the Lange’s Metalmark Butterfly, Antioch Dunes evening primrose, Bay checkerspot butterfly and Metcalf Canyon jewelflower. At Antioch Dunes, for example, PG&E’s efforts have reduced invasive plant species cover by 32 percent.
  • Responsible Transmission Planning. To bring electricity from two large solar farms to customers, PG&E upgraded transmission lines and built two new switching stations in San Luis Obispo and Kern Counties. Throughout the project, we coordinated closely with the solar developers, San Luis Obispo County, the California Public Utilities Commission and the U.S. Department of Energy to minimize impacts to endangered species such as the San Joaquin kit fox, blunt nosed leopard lizard and Kern mallow. We also preserved hundreds of artifacts discovered in a historic Native American seasonal village.
  • Pollinator Partnership logo

    Partnering on Sustainable Solutions

    PG&E is supporting the Pollinator Partnership (P2), a nonprofit group that encourages the health of native pollinator populations—bees, bats, birds, beetles, butterflies and more—throughout North America. These species contribute to ecosystem health and help pollinate agricultural crops. PG&E is working with P2, local agencies and land managers to rehabilitate parkway lands under utility corridors to increase native bee populations.
  • Habitat Conservation Plans (HCP). We continued to implement our San Joaquin Valley Operations and Maintenance HCP, which is a 30-year permit covering our operations and maintenance activities and minor new construction in the region. The HCP covers 23 wildlife and 42 plant species and enables PG&E to maintain our operations in a way that protects these species and the habitats in which they thrive. We are also developing two additional HCPs, one for the Bay Area and another that will encompass another five regions within PG&E’s service area.

PG&E carries out a range of restoration activities and habitat acquisition for mitigation to fulfill state and federal regulatory requirements and to support voluntary environmental initiatives. Last year, our efforts enhanced or restored more than 1,255 acres of habitat and 23 miles of stream and river riparian vegetation.

Protected and Restored Habitat1
Category 2010 2011 2012
Acres set aside and protected 64.1 acres 39.4 acres 0 acres
Acres of restored habitat 590.3 acres 292 acres 1,255.7 acres
Miles of stream and river riparian vegetation protected 13.9 miles 6.6 miles 23.6 miles
  • 1 PG&E undertook these activities to meet various regulatory requirements.

PG&E strives to avoid and minimize impacts to habitats and species wherever possible. When impacts cannot be avoided, we work in partnership with local land trusts and land management organizations to compensate appropriately, as required by law. While this mitigation is required, doing so in concert with broader conservation goals is voluntary. Typically, our strategy is to invest in parcels that contribute to larger landscape conservation goals and benefit a broad set of species, rather than focusing on smaller, separate parcels.

This map shows areas where PG&E has acquired lands or conservation easements or purchased habitat mitigation credits as part of our San Joaquin Valley Operations and Maintenance HCP, totaling nearly 420 acres. Additional acquisitions are expected during 2013 to help satisfy ongoing mitigation requirements.

Stewardship in Our Hydroelectric Operations

PG&E’s stewardship commitment includes working to manage our hydroelectric facilities in a manner that restores and enhances habitat for fish and other wildlife. Examples of our efforts include the following:

image of salmon

Salmon in Butte Creek, where PG&E is working to enhance the fish’s habitat.

  • Battle Creek Salmon and Steelhead Restoration Project. In Tehama County near Mount Lassen, we continue to work with federal, state and regional agencies, conservation organizations and other groups to restore historic salmon runs along Battle Creek in one of the country’s largest cold water fish restoration efforts. Between 2009 and 2015, we are removing five of the eight diversion dams in the area, and retrofitting the remaining three with fish screens and ladders to allow spawning fish to travel upstream through 48 miles of streams and habitat.
  • Butte Creek. In Butte County, PG&E’s DeSabla-Centerville hydroelectric project provides a unique benefit to endangered Chinook salmon and steelhead. An 8-mile diversion canal brings colder water from the Feather River to Butte Creek, encouraging fish to migrate. Together with efforts to improve water quality, install fish screens and remove barriers to fish migration, this project is making a difference: in 2012, officials estimated 10,000 to 15,000 fish compared with about 2,000 in 2011—estimated to be one of the largest runs of spring Chinook since 1954.

Overall, PG&E’s management of our hydroelectric operations yielded important environmental benefits in 2012:

Environmental Stewardship in Our Hydroelectric Operations – 2012
Miles of stream monitored for environmental condition1 513
Acres of bird nesting territories monitored2 7,750
Acres monitored and/or treated for noxious weed control 8,671
Cubic yards of gravel added to streams to enhance fish spawning habitat 200
Acres monitored for use by special-status species3 5,410
  • 1 This measure refers to miles of stream monitored for its environmental condition, such as water quality/flow, sediment management, habitat quality, fish populations, and invasive species.
  • 2 Includes monitoring of Bald Eagle and other nesting territories at PG&E hydroelectric projects.
  • 3 Special status species include those that are listed under the federal or state Endangered Species Acts or are otherwise given a specific designation by a state or federal resource or land management agency. Monitoring studies are required under various hydroelectric licenses.

Sustainably Managing Lands and Watersheds

PG&E is committed to sustainably managing forest lands to improve ecosystems and reduce the risk of wildfires. We are also fulfilling a long-term commitment to work with partner organizations to preserve watershed lands in perpetuity, and we are practicing land stewardship at our Diablo Canyon Power Plant.

Sustainable Forestry

Creating healthy forests through sustainable practices on PG&E’s 52,000 acres of forest lands has long been a priority. Healthy forests minimize fire danger and, as a result, better protect the public, important infrastructure and habitat needed by plants and animals to survive and flourish. Healthy forests also help address climate change by sequestering substantial amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Following a forest fire, PG&E culled dead and dying trees on this property, making way for planned restoration with conifer seedlings.

Key elements of our sustainable forestry efforts include maintaining lands to help prevent the spread of wildfires, engaging nearby communities in wildfire prevention programs, and collecting and banking seeds from PG&E forest lands for future restoration purposes.

Despite these efforts, wildfires do still occur, including several that impacted PG&E property in 2012. When this occurs, burned trees are designated for salvage so that PG&E may reduce forest insect infestation, prepare properties for reforestation efforts and capture the value of dying trees. As a result of the 2012 fires, we harvested impacted trees from approximately 650 acres of land and established 250,000 conifer seedlings in a nursery, which will be used to replant and restore the properties.

Land Conservation Commitment

A 240-acre parcel of PG&E property abuts the U.S. Forest Service’s Emigrant Wilderness and will be transferred to Tuolumne County, while the conservation easement on the land will be donated to the Fall River Resource Conservation District.

PG&E’s Land Conservation Commitment ensures the permanent protection of 140,000 acres of PG&E-owned watershed lands across the Sierra and Cascade Mountain Ranges, through the donation of conservation easements to qualified conservation organizations. In addition, a portion of the land will be donated to local and state organizations.

Implementation of the donations is overseen by the Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council, an independent non-profit organization created in 2003. In 2012, the Stewardship Council recommended that PG&E donate more than 7,500 acres to public agencies or qualified conservation organizations, in addition to the 18,000 acres recommended in 2011. Additionally, the Council recommended giving conservation easements to local community organizations totaling 6,402 acres.

PG&E is also working with the Stewardship Council on a program to implement $25 million in on-the-ground enhancement projects on watershed lands.

Additionally, the Foundation for Youth Investment manages youth-related grantmaking for the Stewardship Council. With help from a PG&E grant in 2012, the foundation:

  • Invested $1.2 million in 49 organizations serving diverse populations across Northern and Central California that connect young people to the outdoors;
  • Launched a workforce development program for young adults from underserved backgrounds to gain the skills needed to work in the outdoor industry; and
  • Helped create a transportation fund to enable classrooms to access outdoor education.
Land Conservation Commitment map

Recommendations from the Stewardship Council in 2011 – 2012

Click image to see full map.

Land Stewardship at Diablo Canyon

Located on one of the most scenic coastlines in the country, Diablo Canyon Power Plant is surrounded by more than 12,000 acres of land that stretches across 14 miles of pristine oceanfront. The site is home to many species of plants and animals, including the American peregrine falcon, and near-shore marine habitats that support marine wildlife species, including the brown pelican, southern sea otter and northern elephant seal.

Visiting hikers on the Pecho Coast Trail near Diablo Canyon Power Plant.
Visiting hikers on the Pecho Coast Trail near Diablo Canyon Power Plant.

PG&E’s stewardship of the property includes livestock grazing and other strategies to remove invasive plant species, which has resulted in a healthier rangeland habitat. PG&E also allows scientists and others to study the area’s habitat and ecology, including archaeology students from nearby California Polytechnic State University. The property also includes three scenic trails that are open to the public. Docent naturalists, who include Diablo Canyon employees, lead groups along Pecho Coast Trail and through Rattle Snake Canyon to provide information about the area’s history, cultural resources and biological diversity.

In 2012, the Wildlife Habitat Council granted Corporate Lands for Learning program certification to PG&E’s Diablo Canyon Land Stewardship Program. Four additional PG&E sites are certified Wildlife at Work sites by the Wildlife Habitat Council.

Sustainable Management Along Utility Lines

Proper maintenance of gas and electric transmission and distribution lines is essential for PG&E to meet our customers’ expectations of safe, reliable and affordable gas and electric service. This includes protecting birds and managing vegetation in a sustainable way.

Protecting Birds

More than 300 species of migratory birds live within PG&E's service area, either on a permanent basis or during semi-annual migration along the “Pacific Flyway.” When these birds perch on power lines or utility poles, or collide with power lines while in flight, they can be injured or killed and can also cause electric outages and wildfires. PG&E has an important responsibility to protect birds, both to comply with state and federal laws and to maintain electric service reliability.

Our work is guided by an Avian Protection Plan to protect migratory, threatened and endangered birds while improving system safety and electric reliability for our customers. PG&E’s plan is one of the most comprehensive in the nation.

Since 2002, PG&E has made approximately 22,500 existing utility poles and towers bird-safe. In that time, we have also retrofitted approximately 26,100 utility poles in areas where bird injuries, fatalities or bird-related power outages have occurred. All new poles and replacement poles in our designated “Raptor Concentration Zone” are also built to be bird-safe.

Bird Protection Program (Bird-Safe Retrofits)
2010 2011 2012
Poles Planned 2,080 2,090 2,050
Poles Completed 2,160 1,885 2,049
% Poles Completed 104% 90% 99%

Key highlights from 2012 included continuing to take steps to protect birds at our facilities, such as surveying substations where burrowing owls reside. We also continued to support a shareholder-funded program that encourages the installation of owl nesting boxes mounted on dedicated poles, rather than utility poles. PG&E encourages growers to install these nesting boxes in vineyards, where owls provide natural pest control.

Vegetation Management

Each year, PG&E’s Vegetation Management department inspects every mile of power line in our service area for public safety and electric reliability. The work is performed by 350 consulting utility arborists and foresters and more than 650 line clearance contractor crews.

Our efforts are focused in three areas:

Nest platform

PG&E installed numerous nest platforms to protect large birds, such as this osprey.

  • Public Safety and Reliability: We recognize the important value that trees and other vegetation bring to our homes and communities. However, we also know that contact between vegetation and power lines can present risks to public safety and is a leading cause of electric power outages. Such incidents can result in injuries to the public, as well as wildfires that damage property and the environment. And because PG&E’s transmission lines are part of the interstate grid, our vegetation management program promotes the stability of the electric grid across the Western United States and Canada and lowers the likelihood of a widespread blackout.
  • Compliance: PG&E is required by law to keep the electric lines clear. For example, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s Standard FAC-003-1 applies to bulk transmission lines and is intended to prevent a large-scale transmission outage. This national standard was developed in response to the Northeast blackout of 2003 and subsequent Congressional mandates. It requires that transmission line owners like PG&E have a formal vegetation management program that meets specific standards and maintains required clearances between vegetation and electric transmission facilities at all times in all conditions.
  • PG&E educates the public about “power-line friendly” tree planting near overhead and underground utility lines, planting for energy efficiency and related topics. PG&E also communicates the importance of keeping vegetation a safe distance from electric transmission lines.

  • Public Involvement: While working to meet federal and state standards, PG&E is committed to engaging with landowners and public agencies to resolve concerns to reach mutually agreeable solutions. Our efforts include a public education program. For example, our “Right Tree, Right Place” outreach aims to educate the public on the proper selection of trees under or near power lines. We communicate the message through community events such as fairs and home and garden shows, tree plantings and partnerships with cities, agencies, fire safe councils and universities.

PG&E has been recognized by the National Arbor Day Foundation as a Tree Line USA recipient for 18 consecutive years for demonstrating best practices in utility arboriculture.